From Plateaued for 30 Years to One of the Fastest Growing Churches in the Country with Bob Riedy
Welcome to this week’s unSeminary podcast. Today we’re talking with Bob Riedy from the Church of the Open Door (COD) in York, Pennsylvania. COD was started in the early 50s after breaking off of a mainline denomination. They experienced rapid growth for about 30 years, but then plateaued for the next 30 years. Today COD has made a comeback and is one of the fastest growing churches in the country.
Bob is with us to talk about how a stuck church can honor its roots while becoming revitalized and reach its community again. It all begins with knowing your church’s DNA.
- Examine the DNA. // About 85-90% of churches in America find themselves either plateaued or losing ground against the growth of their communities. Prior to Bob’s arrival at Church of the Open Door, there was a difficult pastoral transition that did a lot of damage to the church. It wasn’t until Bob and his family came in 2006 when the church was ready to try to reach the community and grow again. The first thing Bob did was to figure out what the DNA of the church was. Every church has a unique DNA and you can’t violate that as you try to bring change. Understanding your church’s DNA is key to helping you know how to structure growth.
- Every church is unique. // Church of the Open Door began to ask, what is the unique mission that this church has in the community and in the world? This began a process of the the church praying, seeking God, and Bob reading a lot of books about why churches become unhealthy. A key book that helped Bob with figuring out the church’s DNA was Transforming Church: Bringing Out the Good to Get to Great by Kevin Ford. Bob learned there are a lot of factors that go into a church’s DNA. It’s shaped by the history of the church, the tradition of the church, the heroes of the church’s past, and also by God’s word. If you can, interview and listen to some of the original church members about how the church was formed. As you consider these different factors, identify what makes up your church’s DNA.
- What factors make up your church’s DNA? // Church of the Open Door identified seven or eight different pieces that define their unique DNA. A few of these are a steadfast commitment to the word of God, a passion for the gospel and missions, as well as being prayer-dependent. COD also has a shared leadership between the pastor, ministry leaders, and elders. Lay leaders have a real stake in what is happening within the church. This is especially important because the difficult pastoral transition prior to Bob’s coming on board drove a wedge between some of the leaders of the church and healing was needed there.
- Revitalizing local outreach. // Church of the Open Door’s passion for global missions led to a revitalization of local outreach initiatives. In the more recent past, COD didn’t have a heart for impacting their city and that needed to change. Bob first addressed this from the pulpit and then brought the focus and budget for local outreach to a place where it was equal with their global missions. When working through change at your church, first identify what should never change and preserve that. But also figure out what needs to change and then shepherd your people through it.
- Structure growth around your DNA. // Once COD defined their unique DNA, they began to make changes to move toward health. In addition to revitalizing local outreach initiatives, they transitioned to more contemporary worship, built a Family Life Center to serve the community, expanded their prayer meetings and sought to equip people in their personal prayer lives and taught the church how to pray. The church leaders also actively pursued healing and learned to work together according to what the Bible teaches. Bob notes when the church saw the leaders working together, loving each other, and enjoying each other, that really permeated the rest of the church in a positive way. All of these steps led to the renewed growth and health in the church.
- Use your DNA to cast vision for the future. // What are your values and mission and vision? Each year Bob evaluates what happened in the life of COD over the past year. Try to work through all the events of the last year and put them into major categories. Evaluate finances, outreaches, and small groups within the context of your DNA. Assess what should be done in the future. What are the plans and goals for your mission and vision moving forward?
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